Lighten Up: 11 Expert Landscape Lighting Tips

We spend so much time and energy on our gardens to create a beautiful, picturesque setting. But once the sun goes down, all that hard work is hidden from view. 

To get more out of your outdoor décor, consider bringing landscape lighting into the equation. Here, landscaping expert Gary Antosh, from and , shares his must-know landscape lighting tips for planning your illuminated spaces.

1. Don’t Be Blinding

Landscape lighting is intended to help you and your family enjoy the beauty of your outdoor décor at night -- so don’t turn it into a daytime view by placing floodlights and spotlights everywhere. That will create a flat, washed-out look. Instead, use a number of smaller fixtures, strategically located to illuminate only the most attractive features. Also adjust fixtures so the bulbs are not in direct view, causing the light to be blinding and distract from the object being illuminated.

2. Create Balance

Position your landscape lighting so you have a balance between areas of light and dark. Correctly illuminated, a flowerbed, tree or cluster of bushes can have a nighttime beauty all its own. These features will be more fascinating when surrounded by an area of darkened shadows, providing an interesting contrast. Plus, unattractive features -- such as plants out of bloom or a distracting background -- can be easily concealed in darkness.

3. Be Inconspicuous

You and your guests should be no more aware of the source of landscape lighting at night than you are of the source of daylight. This can be more difficult with solar lighting fixtures, since solar batteries need to be recharged during the day. Try to find an out-of-the-way place that still gets sunlight, or go with low-voltage lights instead.

4. Look Up

Since natural light almost always comes from above, the bulk of your outdoor lighting should come from the same direction -- the higher the better.

5. Get Low

Wattage, that is. Use comparatively low-wattage floodlights for overhead lighting -- never any bulbs larger than 100 watts. Consider low-voltage lighting as well.

6. Hit the Spot

Use spotlights sparingly and for accent lighting only. Landscape spotlights are good at highlighting an otherwise evenly illuminated scene, or to point out an interesting detail or feature such as a pool.

7. Courtesy First

Besides making certain that your landscape lighting doesn’t shine into your eyes, make sure it doesn’t shining into your neighbor’s eyes too.

8. Smaller is Better

When lighting a large flowerbed or other planting area, use a number of smaller lights rather than a single large unit. This will create a series of softly overlapping pools of light that are free of harsh glare in the center.

9. Stick to the Sides

Very little of your landscape lighting should be front lighting. Regardless of whether the light comes from above or below, most of it should be directed from the sides. Also try to have more light coming from one side than the other, which will result in better modeling and give off an interesting shadow effect. While side lighting is often your best bet, feel free to experiment with back lighting for interesting silhouette effects.

10. Seek the Silhouettes

Choose to light more solid objects, which will be illuminated more effectively than thin, skeleton-like structures. Avoid lighting bare trees, open trellises and the like.

11. Focus, Focus, Focus

Select a focal point or center of attraction for each lit area, and highlight it with additional brightness to point out its most attractive features. Use one or two spotlights, or a light coming from an unusual angle, such as straight up.

12. Get Reflective

Make full use of light-colored reflective surfaces in your landscape lighting scheme. Light-colored walls and fences will often help extend the source of illumination by reflecting and diffusing the rays of light over a

Holiday D├ęcor: Home Decorating Ideas for Inside and Out


  • Branching out. This free home decorating idea takes just a minute. All you need is a large leafless branch and a pitcher or hurricane lantern. Fill the pitcher with enough sand to hold the weight of the branch, then place the branch in the sand. If you’re using a clear lantern, fill with colored sand. Add more personality with a set of twinkling lights or ornaments with a theme or color. Set near the front door or stairway or make two to flank a fireplace.

  • Inside the box. Cut florist foam to fit an old wooden box (the more weathered, the better!). Add greenery -- try trimmings from your Christmas tree -- plus snippets of juniper, hemlock and holly branches. Tuck in pinecones, votives in glass canning jars or apples and pears for a rustic centerpiece for your mantel or table.
  • Family sentiments. The holidays are all about family, so place them front and center in your home decorating. Ask each member of your family for one word they feel sums up the holidays. Print their words on a piece of heavy-duty paper and cut each word out. Embellish the cards with a stencil, if you wish. Attach a piece of florist wire to the mantel or stair rail, then clothespin each word to the wire. Cover each end of the wire with a large velvet or burlap bow.
  • Forgo the red and green. Just because red and green are the holiday colors doesn’t mean you have to use them. If your living room is a color that clashes, play up that hue instead. For instance, a silver-sage living room becomes the backdrop for a white-and-silver color scheme. Choose white candles, silver candelabras, paper cutouts or German feather trees, spray-painted pine cones and twig wreaths, white poinsettias and white and silver pillow covers and throws.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t have to go crazy with the decorations. A grouping of same-color candles in the fireplace, a bowl of ornaments on the dining room table, an unadorned swath of greenery on the mantle all give nod to the season while staying subdued. If you have an open or glass-front china cabinet, add some pinecones or ornaments to the shelves. Have a collection of pitchers or glassware? Add a few bare branches to your favorites.


  • Gather the greenery. Swap out the flowers in your window boxes for an armful of cut evergreen and berry branches. Insert a florist bow and plastic gold or silver balls too. If you prefer, use potted dwarf conifers such as golden false cypress, boxwood, Old Gold juniper or even lavender.

  • Dine al fresco. Who says Christmas dinner needs to be in the dining room? Move the meal outside if you live in a warmer climate (or use outdoor heaters). Use an old plaid blanket as a tablecloth and set the table with mismatched white or old holiday china patterns. Add a runner of evergreen and twigs woven through with a colorful or burlap ribbon. Place hurricanes with candles intermittently down the center. Don’t be formal and matchy-matchy. Remember: you want rustic! Tie place cards to pinecones or natural brush ornaments.
  • Deck the outdoor halls. If you live in a warm climate, bring the holidays to the lanai or porch by incorporating the colors of the season. Typical holiday plants such as poinsettia or amaryllis will do just fine outside. And a plant on each table or a swag across the fireplace makes the season merry.
  • Festive façade. Dress your house for the holidays with a wreath on each window. The look is timeless, but you can easily make it modern with grapevine wreaths or rustic with naked evergreens and no bows. Too many windows for this to be practical? Center a battery-operated votive on each windowsill instead; flameless candles can be bought for about $15 a dozen.
  • Festival of lights. You don’t need to be Clark Griswold to light up your home-- and you don’t need to use those “little twinkling lights.” Try a giant chain of snowflakes so your house twinkles in a different way, and add some to the trees, too.

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Photo: Corbis Images

Christmas Trees 101

Once a year, we have an important decision to make: Fir or Pine? Fraser or Norway?

For those who celebrate Christmas, the tree is the centerpiece of any holiday home decorating. Make sure you get one that fits your needs and style by following our guide to the most common and popular Christmas trees you’re likely to find.


Types: Douglas, Balsam, Fraser, Noble, White


Douglas Fir

Needles are one inch to one-and-a-half inches and have some of the most fragrant aromas among Christmas trees when crushed. The tree, which is one of the most popular trees for the holidays, is a conical shape. Keep it well watered at all times in order to extend its life through the holiday season.

Balsam Fir

These long-lasting needles are three-quarter inch to one-and-a-half inches and are rounded at the tip. The tree’s dark green color has a silvery cast. The fragrance is lasting and pleasing. This is another popular tree for the holidays.


Fraser Fir

Soft-to-the-touch needles are a half inch to one inch long. These pyramid-shaped trees are dark green on top with a silver hue underneath and have a pleasant scent. Strong branches turn upward and hold ornaments well. To care, keep it consistently watered and the tree will have excellent needle retention.

Noble Fir

Needles are one inch long. Nobles are deep green in color, sometimes a bluish or silvery tint, with an unusual (but popular) branch shape. Branches are sturdy with spacing between them, making it easy to hang ornaments as well as hold heavier ornaments. These trees are extremely aromatic and keep very well as long as they’re watered regularly.

White (or Concolor) Fir

Needles are typically a half inch to one-and-a-half inches long and are pointed or notched at the tip. Trees are bluish-green when young and turn a dull green with time. They have good needle retention and a nice, citrusy aroma.


Types: Scotch, White

Scotch Pine

This tree’s vibrant green needles, which are about one inch long, can be sharp, so you may want to wear gloves when decorating. Branches are stiff -- one of the reasons this is one of the most popular Christmas trees. The tree has a nice, long-lasting aroma and good needle retention (about one month). As with all trees, keep it watered, but this pine has a longer survival rate even if left dry for a while (great for the brown thumbs of the bunch!).

White Pine

Needles are two to five inches long in bundles of five. The slender branches of this full-looking tree won’t support as many decorations as the Scotch Pine and aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments. But its bluish-green color and soft, flexible needles are appealing. It retains needles well when consistently watered, and it has little to no fragrance (great for allergies).


Types: White, Norway, Blue


White Spruce

Short, stiff needles are a half inch to three-quarter inch long and have a blunt tip -- excellent for holding ornaments. When crushed, its needles have an unpleasant odor. But this green or bluish-green tree has the best needle retention among Spruces and a nice, natural shape. Fun fact: It’s the state tree of South Dakota.


Norway Spruce

Needles are a half-inch to one inch long. Norways have a shiny, dark green color, a conical shape and strong fragrance. The tree has a short lifespan and needle retention is poor unless it’s cut fresh and kept consistently watered, so it’s best to purchase about a week or so before Christmas. This is a popular choice in Europe.

Blue Spruce

Needles are three-quarter inches to one-and-a-half inches long. Needles will shed in a warm room, but typically this tree has excellent needle retention. Its stiff branches will support many heavy decorations. Blue Spruces have good form and symmetrical shape, and its name comes from its bluish hue that can also appear silvery. Keep it well watered, especially in warmer rooms (and if possible, keep room temperature as low as is comfortable).

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How to Decorate with Houseplants

Whether or not you have a green thumb or an affinity for indoor herb gardens, there’s no question that houseplants add a decorative interest to any interior -- as long as they’re kept alive, of course! From color, shape, texture and general eye-catching appeal, the options of plants (and planters) are seemingly endless.

How should you add houseplants to your interior décor? Follow these tips and considerations from Julia Mack, an interior designer based in Brooklyn, New York.

Keep Proportion in Mind
Knowing the proportion and potential growth of a houseplant before you purchase it will help determine the quantity of plants that your space will require. For instance, a small, sunny den may need only one tree and one tabletop plant to improve the space. But a large, sky-lit family room with a glass door leading to a deck or patio could likely handle two or three groupings of floor plants at a variety of heights. Ask your local home or garden store how large each plant will eventually grow to help you plan the amount of space that will be needed, as well as the number and size of accompanying plants.

Add Plants to the Kitchen
When adding houseplants to your interior décor, many people start with the living room. But kitchens also benefit from a little greenery -- particularly indoor herb gardens. A small indoor herb garden placed on a sunny windowsill or hung on a sunlit wall will provide instant gratification -- and your meals will reap the benefits too. Easy-to-grow rosemary, basil, thyme and parsley will flourish throughout cold months and will transition easily to the outdoors in summer.

Consider Your Lifestyle
Selecting houseplants that fit your lifestyle is also important. Some varieties require regular watering and maintenance, so you’ll want to keep your travel schedule in mind when making your selections. If plant maintenance is low on your to-do list, consider cacti or succulents, which require a minimum amount of work to stay both healthy and strong.

Planters = Accessories
Treat planters as an additional accessory in any room and choose styles that complement your existing interior décor. For a room with wood floors and earthy colors, try a bamboo basket or teak planter. A room with antique or period-style furnishings would be enhanced by copper, pewter or antique brass planters. And a modern space would surely pop with sparkling white porcelain or ceramic containers and modern stainless steel planters.

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Photo: Corbis Images

10 Things Every Man Cave Needs

Any true man cave should be suitable for a king. But what are the essential elements of the most tricked-out guy space? Betsy Helmuth, a New York City-based interior designer and owner of Affordable Interior Design, shares her pro tips and finds.



1. Comfortable Seating

Hunt for a sectional that’s 38- to 42-inches deep (the average is 36 inches). A nice, deep couch will give you plenty of space to fit all your friends, with high-fiving elbow room to spare.

Our Pick:



















Axis 2-Piece Right Arm Chaise Sectional from Crate & Barrel



















2. Plug-In Light Dimmers

A plug-in dimmer attaches to the base of any floor or table light fixture you have, and you can usually snag them for around $10 each. The remote lets you control exactly how much light your fixtures put off, whether you want the room extra dark for a movie or more illuminated to play darts.

Our Pick:


Lutron TT-300H-WH Electronics Plug-In Lamp Dimmer at The Home Depot



3. Mounting-Friendly Entertainment Center

Your flat screen will look so much better mounted -- but not every wall is mount-friendly. Some consoles allow you to attach your TV directly to the back panel, concealing your cords without ruining your wall. Added perk? Extra storage for your gaming consoles.

Our Pick:


Sauder Large Entertainment Center at



4. Thermal Drapes

Not only do thermal drapes give a great blackout effect -- upping the cozy, cave-like factor of the room -- but these curtains are also sound-dampening. That means less white noise comes in and gets out, so no more loud neighbors mowing the lawn or significant others telling you to turn the TV down. 

Our Pick:


Grommet Top Thermal Insulated 84-inch Blackout Curtain Panels at



5. A Pop of Color

Spice up all that neutral furniture by throwing some accent pillows on your couch. Opt for picks in jewel tones such as burgundy, navy and forest green, which amp up the room without venturing into girly territory.

Our Pick:


Studded Velvet Pillow Covers from West Elm



6. A Soft-to-the-Step Rug

Contrary to popular belief, hardwood is not the way to go in your man cave. It’s cold to the touch and can create an echo effect throughout the room. Instead, choose a soft rug, which will make your place feel more plush and comfortable. But be prepared for spills: Opt for an easy-to-clean rug or (better yet) carpet tiles that can be swapped out for new ones when stains prove too stubborn to come clean.

Our Pick:


Made You Look Olive Flor tiles from Flor



7. Guy-Friendly Art

No matter how much of a minimalist you may be, you need something on the walls or your cave will look like a dorm room. Our top recommendations: Movie posters or paraphernalia from your favorite sports teams. Plus, infusing your own interests will help distinguish your man cave from Bob’s down the street.

Our Pick:


Scarface poster at



8. Something Leather

Whether it’s a recliner or a cowhide rug, adding a leather element automatically ups the macho factor of any room tenfold.

Our Pick:


Safari Cowhide Rug from



9. Games

We’re talking anything from billiards to darts -- something that makes your abode a magnet for guy’s night. If you’re short on space, snag a fold-up poker table that you can stash in the corner, or just hook up your tried-and-true PS3. The important thing is to establish your place as the go-to for entertainment.

Our Pick:


Poker Table with Foldable Legs at



10. A Well-Stocked Mini-Fridge

Do you really want to trek all the way upstairs to grab another beer? Didn’t think so.


Compact Refrigerator from Kenmore


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